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Astronaut captures Cygnus spacecraft launch from space

The Cygnus cargo spacecraft is on its way to the International Space Station and astronaut Scott Kelly captured a spectacular image of it in flight.

Cygnus as seen from space as it heads for the ISS.
Scott Kelly/NASA

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly is in the middle of spending a whole year on board the International Space Station. He is using some of that ample time in zero gravity to become one of the most prolific photographers to ever orbit the planet (see an impressive collection of photos from fellow astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti here). One of his latest masterworks is a gorgeously surreal shot of the Cygnus spacecraft after launch.

Cygnus launched on Sunday with the aim of reaching the space station and docking on December 9. Cygnus comes from NASA's commercial partner Orbital ATK and contains 7,000 pounds of cargo. This is Orbital's fourth resupply mission to the ISS.

Kelly's Twitter photo share comes with the caption "Caught something good on the horizon. #Cygnus at #sunset on its way to @space_station! #YearInSpace."

The image -- above, click to enlarge for its full glory -- shows layers of bright colors ranging from deep red at the top down to black at the bottom. A teardrop shape through the middle of the image comes to a point at the bottom where the Cygnus spacecraft is located.

Kelly shared two different looks at Cygnus, the second one setting the spacecraft against a backdrop of shades of blue. The cargo ship launched from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

According to NASA, Cygnus is stocked with new science experiments, including the Space Automated Bioproduct Lab, a facility for researching microorganisms. The payload also contains a nanosatellite, a Microsoft HoloLens and a safety jet pack for use during spacewalks.

Once Cygnus is unloaded, it will be filled with about 3,000 pounds of trash generated on the ISS and then set loose to burn up in the Earth's atmosphere. If we're lucky, Kelly will catch another action shot before it meets its fiery fate.